Harvest Festival has returned for its second outing and is showing no signs of sophomore syndrome with this year’s lineup being arguably even more impressive than its predecessor. Among the stellar list of musical acts is currently LA based three-piece Liars, who earlier this month released their 6th studio album WIXIW.
For Australian-born vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Angus Andrew, WIXIW was the latest chance to further broaden musical horizons and continue to develop Liars’ already notable reputation for striking stylistic shifts. Along with fellow bandmates Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross, Andrew temporarily left better acquainted traditional instruments and ventured into unexplored territory.
Swapping guitar strings for guerrilla samples, Andrew sought to discover alternative methods for creating music.
“For me personally I think it’s just a way to keep myself excited and challenged and interested about what I’m making”, Andrew suggests.
“I think it’s good to explore new ways to make things and to really push the boundaries of what your creativity is.”
Rather than gaining expertise with ‘in-the-box’ digital recording software, Andrew and Hemphill dove into untested waters head first, taking advantage of the unfettered freedoms afforded by their lack of knowledge and naivety.
“I think it…offers a possibly unique perspective on the way we use things that I guess a lot of other people use… The idea that taking up a somewhat…naïve approach opens up more possibilities then if I’d just sort of figured out how to do things exactly correct”, Andrew proposes.
“In a way you sort of put yourself in a position that might be exactly the same as everyone else. I also feel like in the music that we make that there’s a lot of possibilities when you do things wrong and you make mistakes. Things fall apart and in some ways those are the most interesting moments.”
Interesting moments can, however, also breed uncertainty. Placing oneself in an uncomfortable position may lead to new experiences and otherwise unattainable inventiveness, but it also comes with a degree of uneasiness and raises questions of doubt as one stumbles through the creative process.
“There is a lot of anxiety and it is difficult when you’re uncertain about it. It just tends to propel you to work that much harder though than if you were comfortable and felt confident about what you were doing.”
“There are moments obviously that are enjoyable, definitely. You have certain feelings like you’ve done something good, but that is quickly erased by a massive amount of doubt”, Andrew chuckles.
Despite any apprehension, Andrew and Hemphill had the courage of their convictions to follow through on any and all sonic ideas that came to mind.
Taking a back-to-basics approach on sampling, the experimental musicians recorded (and filmed) any object that could elicit or be manipulated to solicit a sound. Electric razors vibrating against bench tops, different types of fruit hooked up to electricity, water dripping from wet rags, and countless other items were employed in order to create the enveloping atmosphere that persists throughout the duration of WIXIW.
“Really nothing was off the table and from the beginning of the project we sort of established that. We even made the point of setting aside almost 6 months…saying, ‘Look for that amount of time we’re just going to really try everything and experiment with everything before we really force ourselves to try and even put any songs together’.”
“So that was really fun and great in a lot of ways. It also made it tricky though coz’ after about six months we had a huge catalogue of really interesting sounds but no songs at all. It was a real trick to try and figure out how to utilise those sounds in a song”, Andrew acknowledges.
To accomplish the feat of sorting through the massive collection of samples amassed by Andrew and Hemphill, the two songwriters chose to work together more connectedly than on previous Liars’ records. Rather than bringing a nearly formed song idea to eachother for fleshing-out, the two songsmiths collaborated on every step of each song.
“There’s a lot of benefit to be had from working that way… It’s not necessarily easier, but the way that we worked previously, we would do a lot of work individually. You know it’s kind of nice to do that, but if you really want to utilise eachother’s strengths and different viewpoints, then it seems almost necessary to force yourselves to collaborate more”, Andrew considers.
“If we want to make good records that we really feel like we’ve done our best in, then probably we should force ourselves to continue to work that way, but… it’s not easy.”
While listeners can revel in the results of Liars’ toils, enjoying the accomplishment that is WIXIW is not a forgone conclusion for the band itself. The digitalisation of sounds can sever ties from their organic origins, while the painstaking process of recording, sorting and utilising samples leaves its mark not in the decisions made but perhaps in the decisions that were not.
“We were using the computer so much, a lot of sounds they get so processed within the computer that in a way you kind of lose connection with the way you created it”, Andrew concedes.
“It’s more this idea of, ‘Ah shit, maybe we should of made that snare drum louder, or is the vocal too loud there?’, kind of nitpicky things that could go on for the rest of my life. It’s kind of the annoying part of being a musician – when you listen to music, it’s always with this kind of critical ear.”
“You’re kind of always longing to go back to that point in life when you were just a pure music fan.”
Music fans ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ alike will have the chance to see Liars at this year’s Harvest Festival. Given the extra devices required to perform songs from WIXIW, festivalgoers may be in for a memorable experience as the trio attempt to recreate their new-found sounds onstage.
“Whatever the opposite of smooth sailing is, is probably what I’m expecting”, Andrew laughingly anticipates, “It’s the most difficult record we’ve made in terms of trying to translate it onto the stage. It involves a massive amount of gear and the kind of technology that we’re all still pretty new to.”
“On the past couple of records we have brought other musicians in as a way to try and make it a bit more perfect. I think the realisation is that actually doing it as a three-piece and trying to handle it all ourselves makes it just that much more on the knife’s edge and more interesting that way.”
“So there’s a lot of things that can go wrong and in a way I think that’s kind of the benefit of it. You know I’m not one of those people who’s interested in trying to make a perfect replica of what you hear on the record at home to what you see at our live show.”
“I’m interested in it being unique each time, and in that way I still embrace this idea of sort of allowing things to go awry.”
WIXIW by Liars is out now.